Election result: The 3rd most Republican Legislature in 80 years

The 2015 Legislature will be the third-most Republican group in 80 years.

This post is based on preliminary election results. Provisional and absentee ballots remain to be counted.

Update (Nov 20): Now that provisional and absentee ballots are in, three elections have seen their outcome reversed. Disregard what’s written below and see this new post instead.

Two years ago, the 2012 elections gave Republicans 3 additional seats in the Utah House and 2 additional seats in the Utah Senate, producing the second-most Republican Legislature in 80 years.

This year, Democrats would have been pleased merely to avoid further losses. They went one better in yesterday’s election, picking up a single seat in the Utah House.

This gain will surely cheer Democrats. If nothing else, regaining a seat based on Carbon and Duchesne counties allows them, once again, to claim some following outside of Salt Lake County. But they shouldn’t get too excited. The 2015 Legislature will be the third-most Republican group in 80 years.

  • The 2015 House will be 80.0% Republican, down from 81.3% two years ago. This will be the fourth most Republican House (after 85.5% in 1967 and 81.3% in 1985 and 2013) since the Depression.
  • The 2015 Senate will remain 82.8% Republican. This ties 2013 and 1983 as the most Republican Senate since the Depression.
  • In total, 80.8% of legislators will be Republican in 2015, placing 2015 in a tie for third (with 1985) after 1967 (84.5%) and 2013 (81.7%).

Historical trends

The following figure provides some context. The Legislature experienced Democratic dominance in the 1930s and 1940s and a period of alternating party control from the late 1940s through the 1970s. Republicans have controlled the House since 1977 and the Senate since 1979. Democrats made some inroads in the 1990s, but Republicans have strengthened their control over the past half decade.

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1931-2015

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1931-2015

A historical footnote

If you’re curious why my figure and comparisons go back only to 1933, that’s because Utah had a strange relationship with the national political parties for the first forty years of statehood. After the dissolution of the old People’s Party and Liberal Party, it took Utah’s voters several decades to find a consistent partisan identity.

Below, you can see how erratic the figure would look if I used the entire data series since statehood. From 1897 through 1933, both parties experienced periods of near-unanimous control of the Legislature. Taking the long view, Utah Democrats can console themselves that it could be–and has been–worse.

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1897-2015

Partisan control of the Utah Legislature, 1897-2015

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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